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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 105 - All is lost in the warm embrace of great artworks


I AM what is known as a culture seeker; one who likes a nice bit of nourishing Beethoven - you know where you are with Ludwig - a steaming slice of Borodin tartare, great bleeding but intellectually chewy chunks of Wagner and best cuts of Mozart, perhaps marinated - although not to everyoneís taste - in a sauce a la Scarlatti.

In my Chopin-Liszt for CDs and DVDs, I not only look for cream of Chabriet and semi-skimmed Stockhausen but will also, when it comes to the crunch, grapple with hardtack Hindemith.

In visual arts, my tastes, I protest, are catholic. While my art belongs to Dada, for my Monet, I am passionate for large, succulent slices of sun-ripened Impressionists and helpings of the old classical masters such as Leonardo da Vinci.

That is why I have been in Parisís Louvre, surrounded by about 400 other culture-imbibers, giving the Mona Lisa an admiring appraisal and receiving that famous, inscrutable smile that reminded me of ones girls sometimes gave, decades ago, when I asked them onto the floor at some Edinburgh ballroom and was told: "No thanks, ahím restin."

Her look also seemed to say, "Get lost" - a superfluous injunction since my wife and I were lost already among that vast collection of paintings, statuary, objets díart and artefacts housed in one of the worldís leading museum and galleries.

In such places, you start off with gazersí enthusiasm and energy. Here are the Oriental antiquities; there are the sculptures. Now we see a glowing display of paintings and in the next gallery, Islamic art in all its splendour. However, after three hours culture-soaking and seeking passages through crowd maelstroms, fatigue sets in and we want out.

NO easy matter. The "sortie" signs seem to indicate a baffling circularity of progress and small print maps are difficult to read in subdued light. We pass the Venus di Milo with her disarming smile four times, the goddess Hathor and King Seti I three times and a hot-water-bottle-shaped African fertility figure twice but exits still elude us.

No-one we approached spoke English except a Vietnamese couple - also lost. Attendants fired machine-gun-rapid directions that shot to pieces our school French.

Just when we feared our culture-honed, whitened bones might be found one day in an obscure corner of the archaeological section, an exit unexpectedly loomed and we staggered out into the refreshing, traffic-fumed air.

Large galleries, museums and exhibitions often become mazes to me. "Donít wander off; we havenít time to look for you," a guide warned our Scottish holiday group when visiting the Hermitage, (then) Leningradís splendid art gallery.

I stopped to take photographs and, amazingly, found the group had disappeared. Desperately, I rushed from gallery to gallery surrounded by the cream of Western art, all of which I ignored; I only wanted to see the broad-brush-stroke faces of my cultural comrades.

In a nightmarish, racing search along corridors crammed with coagulations of scandalised Oriental and European tourists, I found my group being lectured on Communismís artistic contribution to civilisation; nobody had missed me.

During a visit to a Moscow exhibition of Soviet achievements, I deliberately parted with my coach-borne party so that I could, at leisure, take photographs, arranging to meet them at a certain time and exit.

GOOD planning, except that I underestimated the exhibitionís size and complexity and found myself disoriented in a stuff-of-bad-dreams scenario amid massive statues of slab-faced Slavs eyeing the future with concrete confidence, a wilderness of halls displaying industrial, agrarian, artistic and scientific successes and, everywhere, the perspiring proletariat apparently finding English as rare as Sanskrit.

For a young Tory, as I was then, it was Socialistic hell on earth. Eventually, I encountered my coach search party and escaped.

My most embarrassing cultural calamity occurred when I arrived late for a classical music concert at a Scottish country house.

I was told to carry my chair along underground passages where I would emerge at the back of the concert room.

Inevitably, I got lost but enticed by the siren voice of a soprano, I opened a door and walked, chair-bearing, onto the stage and hastily, blushingly, retreated. The audience looked startled but the singerís notes never faltered.

Those who seek culture should be prepared to suffer.


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